Museum Handbook: Primer on Disaster Preparedness
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"Emergency Salvage of Flood Damaged Family Papers"

As the national repository of the records of the Federal govern ment, the National Archives & Records Administration recognizes the importance of family records. During the mid-west floods of 1993, the staff of the National Archives developed some technical tips to guide individuals in emergency stabilization and salvage of damaged documents, photographs, books, and other personal papers. It is important to note that flood damage to some items may be irreversible. The treatment of objects of high monetary, historic, or sentimental value should only be performed in consultation with a conservator.


Many people are sensitive to mold. Also, some mold species are toxic. If any health effects are observed when treating mold consult a doctor or mycologist (the local extension service may be able to help) before proceeding.

The best way to prevent or stop an outbreak of mold is to remove items from environmental conditions that encourage mold growth: high temperature, high relative humidity, stagnant air, and darkness. The first priority is to dry moldy items (see instruc tions for drying below). If wet and moldy materials cannot be dried immediately they may be stabilized by freezing. Placing damaged items in a personal or commercial freezer will not kill mold. It will, however, put the mold in a dormant state until time and an appropriate treatment environment are available. Manageable quantities of frozen items may then be defrosted and treated at leisure.

Active mold looks fuzzy or slimy. Dormant mold is dry and powdery. Do not attempt to remove active mold; it may only spread or smear. Mold which remains active after freezing or after the host material appears dry may be treated with brief (1- 2 hours) exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Extreme caution must be exercised when treating materials outdoors: too much radiation will accelerate deterioration and may cause fading; wind may cause physical damage if items are blown about; and high relative humidity or condensation caused by quick temperature changes may actually exacerbate mold growth.

Dormant mold spores will reactivate as soon as conditions are favorable. They should, therefore, be removed from items and may be brushed or vacuumed away. This treatment should be performed outdoors where other materials and spaces will not be "infected." When brushing mold use a soft, clean, light-colored brush and a gentle pushing motion. Change soiled brushes often to prevent spreading mold from one object to another. When vacuuming, screening material placed over the nozzle of a low suction vacuum will capture loose bits of the item which may inadvertently dislodge.